Health minister remains ‘confident’ in NDP deal as pharmacare deadline nears

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There are 20 scheduled sitting days left for the House of Commons before the holiday break, and that means a deadline is fast approaching for a key part of the supply and confidence agreement between the Liberals and NDP: passing and introducing pharmacare legislation.

“I do absolutely think it’s possible to introduce legislation. Whether or not we can get it through all stages, I mean, that’s another question,” Health Minister Mark Holland said, speaking at an event in Winnipeg.

Despite the tight timeline, Holland says he remains “confident” in the relationship with the NDP.

“I understand … the desire to engage in hypotheticals, but I look at how much progress has been made and how productive the conversations have been and I’m confident,” Holland said.

As evidence, he pointed to last week when the Liberals tabled legislation to ban replacement workers in federally-regulated workplaces that are undergoing job action, also known as anti-scab legislation. This is a position which the NDP have long advocated, and is part of the supply and confidence agreement.

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In Toronto, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said that his party has seen one draft of proposed pharmacare legislation, but rejected it.

“So the Liberals want to leave the door open for some form of mixed public-private where the pharmaceutical industries continue to make huge profits. The pharmacy industry doesn’t like the idea of a universal public pharmacare where we cover everybody,” Singh told reporters

“So the Liberals want to continue to appease those wealthy sectors, and we want to make sure people get fairness. That’s the sticking point.”

Introducing and passing legislation on pharmacare is one of the key pillars in the supply and confidence agreement between the Liberals and the NDP.

As part of the agreement, the Liberals will advance some key NDP priorities in exchange for support on confidence votes in the minority Parliament until fall 2025, when another election must be held by law.

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At their policy convention last month, NDP delegates voted in favour of having this pharmacare provision be a make-or-break point in the supply and confidence agreement.

The last scheduled sitting day for the House of Commons is Dec. 15, but it’s not unusual for Parliament to rise a day or two earlier.

When asked if he would pull out of the supply and confidence agreement if pharmacare legislation is not passed by year’s end, Singh said he’s focused on the present.

“We’re not going to look into the future, we’re going to focus on right now. We’re in the same position we were before and we’re going to use the power we have to fight to deliver help to Canadians,” he replied.

The supply and confidence agreement says the Liberals will introduce and pass the Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023 and then task the National Drug Agency to develop a formulary of essential medicines and bulk purchasing plan by the end of the agreement, which runs to 2025.

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